By Robert Berman in News
Last Friday, Clark College faculty, students and trustees slogged through ice, snow and slow traffic for the chance to eat breakfast with six Washington state representatives.
The legislative breakfast began at 8 a.m. in the Penguin Union Building’s fireside lounge. The meeting gave members of the college community an opportunity to speak person-to-person with representatives from Washington’s 17th, 18th and 49th legislative districts.
Clark’s role in the community and local economy was a main focus for the breakfast, but talk of underfunding at the college dominated dialogue with the legislators.
“Clark is one of Washington’s largest colleges, but it is also the most underfunded,” President Bob Knight said.
Since the 2008 recession, Clark has seen record attendance, Knight said. While the surge of students has increased tuition revenue, the state caps funding for secondary education at 6,955 full-time-equivalent students. FTE is determined by credit load instead of headcount. According to Knight, Clark serves roughly 1,500 more FTE than the state funds.
If the state funded the college for all full-time students, Clark would bring in more than $4,000 per student, Knight said. Instead, the college only makes around $3,500 per student.
The college’s plans for expansion aren’t helping its case, said 49th district Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver. Clark’s plans to open a campus in northern Clark County would mean more students and more underfunding, he said.
Knight said Clark does not plan to open the north campus within this decade, and the system for allocating money to Washington colleges should change by then.
The Washington Board for Community and Technical Colleges makes
funding decisions for community colleges.
Moeller said he did not understand Clark’s problem with the funding cap until he attended the meeting.
“I talked with some of my republican friends, and we agreed that it needs to change,” Moeller said. “We will work together to at least write a letter to the board.”
Knight said he doesn’t think the representatives could do much to influence the funding system.
The breakfast was the first of its kind at Clark College, said Trustee Sherry Parker. Previously, trustees and members of student government travelled to Olympia for a January meeting with legislators. By hosting the meeting at the college, Clark reached more representatives, Parker said.
“For the representatives that come, that one-on-one dialogue is very effective,” Parker said. “But it is most effective when students talk to them.”